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Saturday, November 7, 2009

Renewed Faith in Humanity

Last week, after learning about the gang rape at Richmond High School, the very same school the movie Coach Carter is based on, I wondered if we had sunk too low to be saved. The idea that people watched this poor girl get gang raped for two hours while not one of them called 911 makes them just as culpable as those who committed this heinous crime. Granted, they didn't commit the rapes, but as proven in the true case behind the movie The Accused, people who fall prey to the Bystander Effect are just as responsible. Witnesses walked by, watched for a few minutes, and then would leave. Even if terrified that the rapists would turn on them, I'm sure every one of them had a cell phone that has a 9 and a 1 on it, and how hard would it have been to dial anonymously? But not one person did. I'm disgusted to be a human being when I hear about tragedies like this. Those people will have to live with themselves for the rest of their lives, and I hope it haunts them every moment of every day.

Even with that having just happened, I have renewed faith. I left nearly $500 worth of jewelry in a Brighton tin in a restroom at Wilson's Fitness Center the other day. I was changing to work out, and I simply forgot to put it in my bag. The tin got left on the back of a toilet. When I realized what had happened (at midnight, mind you), I frantically called. The late night worker didn't know, but he insisted I call the manager the next morning. When I did, she informed me that the tin was safe and sound in her desk, and I could pick it up any time. Wow. Whoever picked it up, and I wish I knew who it was, you have renewed my faith that not everyone is like those at Richmond High School who saw and did nothing. Good people still walk among us and remind me that there's still hope.

If only we could send everyone else to Siberia.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Everything Matters

I spent the day with my mom going through a neuro series to determine what her memory issues officially are. It confirms what I've always believed: everything matters.

Tell those close to you that you love them...every day.
Tell people you work with how much you appreciate them...every chance you get.
Hold a hand out for a stranger, open the door for someone who needs it, and pay it forward in all ways possible. Choose your words wisely, because people will never forget them: if they're inspiring, then what an impact you'll have.

The best adage to embrace is one I learned in Hawaii two summers ago: live well, love much, laugh often. And believe Maya Angelou when she said that people will forget what you said and what you did, but they will never forget how you made them feel.

Don't wait to do these things. Someone may need it today more than ever.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Mixing Politics and School...

So I've been mired in a new school year of teaching classes, the last of my PhD courses, and just life in general. But an issue is burning for I'm resurrecting my blog from the brink of obscurity.

So the issue begins... Regardless of which side of the political spectrum you lean toward (and don't many of us actually hover somewhere in that middle space now known as No-Man's Land?), we still live in America. But something a local radio host said in Columbia last week bothered me immensely. (It was either in the newspaper or a magazine, I don't remember, but my MU students were bothered enough to bring it up in class.)

It started when our current President chose to speak to school children, just as a few Republican presidents have done in recent terms. This was not a new innovation on the President's part. However, THIS time, it caused a ruckus in Columbia, and this man (let's call him Barney for ease of identification) said something to the effect of, "That would be a good day for your kids to skip school."

So much for all the rest of the work your child would be doing the other seven and a half hours that day...

If George Bush had still been President, and this statement had been made by a Democrat, he'd be considered anti-American. But with the tables turned, this community leader, er, Barney, just taught his children that it's okay to disrespect this country, his school, his teachers, and his peers. No matter whether I like Obama or Bush or McCain or Palin, once one of them wins, he or she is MY President. And if highly conservative people -- and radically liberal people as well -- can't put aside their differences and embrace every President as their own, then the schism between the parties and this country will continue to grow. Children watch their parents and want them to be role models. Being judgmental, hypocritical, and blatantly disrespectful of the greatest office in the greatest country on the planet sends a horrible message to not only Barney's children, but those who might not understand the political stance and see it simply as a show of disrespect. There are disenfranchised teenagers out there listening, thinking, "Well, hey, if Barney says I don't gotta go to school, then I ain't goin'."

Really, Barney, that's the message you want sent to this community? To your children and every other child who hears it? I'm left wondering, when a President is elected you DO endorse, how will you explain the difference to your children?

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Teacher Book Arrives!

I just received the new book My First Year in the Classroom, with a story I wrote in it! I'm excited! You can check it out on Amazon at:

Many teachers contributed, and it's got some great insight in it for new and veteran teachers! Since it's a compilation like this, it was a one-time payment to contributors, so if you'd like a copy, please email me at and request an autographed copy! It's fun to have a new and different book out!! :-)

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Summer Chaos

I've been immersed in the Missouri Writing Project Advanced Institute this summer, and while it's sad to be so busy you don't blog or write about your experiences until after the fact, it's rejuvenating to feel the breath release knowing there's still weeks until school starts with endless days to create.

To surround myself with writers is like a buoy for me. It lifts me, allows me to tread and gawk at those around me with the gift to leave me in awe. These two weeks at the MWP have done that. Amazing writing generates amazing emotions. And on the tail of those, the words that flow can't be slowed or squelched, even if they're rambling. The stream of consciousness that often comes is so refreshing, and then the channeled writing can come.

This is my rambling. Saturday I'll buckle down to work on my new Danna Scanlon book, and all the energy can help her solve her next case. And it's gonna be a doozy...

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

New Project

Now that I tweet on Twitter and put updates on Facebook, I'm not nearly as good about blogging... (my publicist has found the coolest application that allows me to do all those sites through one place...)

But I've started a project that's worthy of a blog... Karen Althage, a breast cancer survivor, approached me about writing her story. She's amazing, and she's given me the motivation to write about something important, and something that ALL of us need to support. After several months of interviewing her, I participated in a "breast casting" event on Sunday that is exactly what it sounds like; women from Columbia came together to have their breasts immortalized in plaster of paris, and then artists from around the area will paint them. The final products will be sold at an art show in October. Many of the women have been touched by breast cancer in some way, and some were even breast cancer survivors themselves. It was amazing, and it puts life in perspective to see women embrace their lives, their futures when faced with such a challenge. It puts the pettiness of other things out on a limb and reminds us to focus on the tree, on the trunk, and those closest to us.

Karen and some other women are founders of the Vincent P. Gurucharri Foundation, complete with Karen doing a video for the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation and helping organize a fundraiser that had Carl Edwards giving away NASCAR memorabilia and signing autographs. I'm honored to now be part of something so significant and hope this book raises awareness that even though 1 in 7 women will get breast cancer, 88% will survive it...

Monday, May 4, 2009

Those Who Judge…

Hatred, I’ve learned, can come in pretty packages... And often it’s cloaked in ways that make it more than pretty, angelic even. It’s scary how many people have some elemental quality they hate in another human being, and that person or that quality often never intersect in any way. So where does the hatred come from? Psychologists would say it’s an innate fear of being the hated, but perhaps it’s a deeper chasm forming in our country.

I find it disturbing how divisive we’ve become. Our nation has gone extreme, on both sides, and that leaves most of us who hover in the middle left to wonder…why are we all so quick to judge, to hate, to try so hard to tell others how they should live? We knock anyone who doesn’t worship our God; we spit on anyone who loves a person we’re disgusted with; we feel compelled to judge to the point of hatred. And I use the pronoun loosely. I’m not an atheist, nor agnostic. I was saved and baptized when I was in junior high, but I subscribe first to the adage, “Take out your mirror before getting out the magnifying glass.” I believe that’s what God wants – for us to live a good life, to be good people, to be a good example for all those watching us. What message do we send kids when we pass judgment on others? No matter another person’s crime, no matter their indiscretions, their beliefs, their sins, it’s not for us to say. I cringe when I hear an outspoken Bush-hater, even more when I listen to a blind Bush-worshipper. We are no longer allowed to have our own unspoken beliefs, no longer left alone if we announce an allegiance to one side or the other. Instead, both sides insist on converting us, saving us from ourselves, even if we don’t want or need saving.

Just once I’d like to be able to say, “I voted for…” or “I think everyone should be allowed to marry…” or “The war in Iraq is…” without getting an earful of hatred from someone on the opposing side. As we’ve become so obsessed with being PC, we’ve also gotten too opinionated to carry on a real conversation about a heated issue. If we want our kids to form opinions of their own, how can we show them that if none of us ever really listens? How do we teach tolerance when a huge majority don’t practice it?

How will we change narrow-minded views if only the open-minded are paying attention? If we’re only preaching to the choir, then does that mean the choir doesn’t have a mind of their own?

To anyone out there who truly cringes at the thought of their child marrying someone of a different race, the same sex, or a card-carrying member of a different religion, why do you think you feel that way? Just once, stop and think about it, take a look at yourself, and ask, Why do I judge someone who has nothing against me?

We should all subscribe to the adage, “Take out your mirror before getting out the magnifying glass.” It would be a great place to live if we really judged not.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Spring Is Sustaining...

It has been a weird winter and an even stranger spring. But it's been interesting these past few weeks.

The Missouri Writers Guild conference was amazing... I got to meet Lee Goldberg, the writer of Monk (the series and the books, and he made fun of Missouri with no mercy!!), and some phenomenal editors, agents, and fellow writers (Kate Angelella, Annette Fix, Harvey Stanbrough, to name a few...) I have some amazing photos I need to add to my website, so keep posted there...

The Mizzou Tigers kicked some butt, only inches from the Final Four, and now Cardinal baseball is heating up (poor Chris Carpenter...but I think we're going to survive without him).

But the best part of this time of year is another Mizzou semester winding down. I'm nearing the end of my PhD coursework. Just two more semesters! So my life as an author can resume for the summer, thank God, and for those of you who loved Dregs, I'm working on a sequel. I'll also be facilitating the Missouri Writing Project, which is an amazing opportunity for teachers who love to write and want to incorporate it in their classrooms!

So happy spring to everyone and keep your fingers crossed that the warm weather is finally here to stay!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Team Angels

Having once been a college athlete – and only tackling sports I could not only master but be the best at – I’ve discovered something about skiing. I suck. Actually, that’s not quite right. My ski instructor, Priscilla, said I had all the techniques down, but I sucked at the confidence go-for-it part. I’ve bungeed, rappelled down steep cliffs, and done the Dragon’s Wing at Six Flags – but put my feet on two skinny strips of wood, and all my daring goes flying off the lift. Your feet aren’t supposed to move when you don’t want them to, right? Well, I certainly think so, because when I felt out of control, I panicked! J And I had to look hysterical.

So for any of you who saw me out there sprawled in the snow, I really was there to practice my snow angels, and I have to say, I had those down pat! Do they have a team for that?

Monday, March 16, 2009

It's a Great Time To Be Alive...

It was an awesome weekend to be a sports fan in my house… my nephew, Luke, played for the 5A state basketball championship and kicked some roundball butt. I hated that it was at the expense of Rock Bridge High School, but Chaminade, where Luke goes is a sophomore starter, displayed resilience in their quest to win the state championship. With a shaky performance against Rock Bridge, Chaminade came back in full, true-force form against Grandview and won it all.

And hand-in-hand with the Red Devils of Chaminade, the Mizzou Tigers won their first ever Big XII title… Several times the Big Eight champs, Mizzou overpowered everyone to finish the season as #9 in the nation, a #3 seed in the NCAA tourney, and hopefully, a chance to surpass their finest Elite 8 finish in the Big Dance.

With Cardinal’s baseball right around the corner, March Madness in full swing, the NFL draft only a month away, I’ve gotta tell you, it is a great time to be alive.


Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Shelby Knox…You go, girl!

I just watched an amazing documentary (in lieu of being able to attend the True/False Film Festival in Columbia this past weekend). The Education of Shelby Knox delves into a dilemma that both astounds and disgusts me. Shelby Knox, at the time a high school student, challenges her ultra conservative hometown of Lubbock, Texas, to teach sex ed. in the public school. The resistance rivals stone walls of historical proportion (the Wall of China comes to mind!)

Shelby, they discover, is an oxymoron. She is first and foremost a devout Christian. BUT (capital letters intended) she is also a liberal. It begs the question, when did the term liberal become a dirty word? My mother, a pretty conservative Republican, still sees liberal as akin to open-mindedness, while a staunch conservative friend sees the “L” word as radical and extreme.

My digressions aside, uber conservative Lubbock Public Schools teaches abstinence only in their district – period. If a teacher even attempts to offer any advice diverging from that philosophy is subject to termination, and there are situations that support this, and Shelby Knox wanted to change that. But the school board and the community slammed the door in her face, stating that to educate kids about sex would be to condone it and teach it to those na├»ve enough to know little about it. Yeah, right. The irony is, Lubbock has THE highest teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted disease rates in the nation. One in 14 girls get pregnant each year… gonorrhea rates are TWICE the national average. What does that say about a conservative view of sex education in our schools? I know as a teacher, I can’t understand the ostrich mentality. Why wouldn’t you want to educate kids? To know the consequences on all levels (physically, mentally, and especially financially), might open just one of those 1 in 14 girls’ eyes…

I just don’t get it…

Saturday, February 7, 2009

My Celine Moment...

I’ve never been a huge Celine Dion fan. I’ve always appreciated her amazing voice, have loved specific songs like “Because You Loved Me” and her new “Taking Chances” (it might be one of the prettiest songs I’ve ever heard). But all in all, I would get tired of her, couldn’t listen to just her, so I’d throw her songs into mixes with other artists to really enjoy her.

That has changed. I saw her in concert Wednesday at the Scottrade Center in St. Louis…wow. She was beyond amazing, and if you’ve never seen someone who truly performs, she would be the perfect one to see. Cher does that – performs and doesn’t just sing. But Celine, with her sincerity and fun personality, made the thousands of people in Scottrade feel like her friends. And that voice…my god, her range is nothing short of phenomenal, and I truly understand that she is the Barbra Streisand of our era.

Few concerts leave me feeling like I’ve fulfilled some missing component of my life (Paul McCartney, Tina Turner, Bob Seger, Melissa Etheridge, and Don Henley would be the other 5…). But even among those greats, I’d have to say Celine hovers near the top of the list. I seldom see a group or singer more than once, but if she’s back in Missouri again, she is a definite “must see” for me.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Super Sunday

I marvel at how much hype can go into a single sporting event, but then again, I’m guilty of feeding the fanaticism. I wanted Kurt to prove the naysayers wrong, but at least it was a great game…

In the midst of watching the pre-game festivities, I caught a glimpse of news tidbits that both disgusted and disillusioned me. My social conscience is easily ired, but the gamut of weekend events startled even me. A homeless man left on the street in D.C. to die while people waltzed to and fro to a grocery store…Michael Phelps caught inhaling. To think that one shopper loaded groceries while Jose Sanchez lay inches away, dying, should raise a never level of disgust in all of us. And yet, the AOL polls admit that most people would’ve done the same thing, most probably wouldn’t have even noticed poor Jose lying there. What have we been reduced to? Because he was homeless, we’re somehow justified in accepting the beating death of this man? I shudder to think what drove him to the streets in the first place, but in the realm of human existence, should it matter?

And then there’s our American hero, Michael Phelps, caught hitting a bong. The gasp from the crowd, the collective jaw dropping, the judgment passing without a conscious forethought. This man captivated the world in a way few ever have. But the media feels compelled to dethrone our heroes, to expose their flaws, and give them their imperfect fifteen minutes. Will it ever stop? Our fear-mongering, idol-crushing, negativity-thriving paparazzi on a quest for all things ratings-worthy?

I wonder. But as long as we hit those websites, watch slanderous news shows, and read the National Enquirer’s of the world, it won’t stop. And neither will they. It’s a vicious cycle and takes one of us at a time to break it. But as much as I want to claim I’m doing my part, here I am admonishing them, after having listened and read and believed.

All I know is that Michael Phelps is a young man who’s not gotten to be a kid for a long time. It takes great sacrifice to achieve greatness, and for many people, that puts a huge target on him to be perfect. If only all of us could be tagged the same…

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Warhol's Legacy...

Another politician has been caught in the disgrace spotlight, this time Oregon mayor Sam Adams. To make it even more scandalous, he is the first openly gay mayor there elected, and his transgression has been that he asked a teenager to lie about their affair (he was significantly older)…

So the gasps of those I’ve heard discuss this make me wonder: Is it because he’s gay? Because of the age difference? Or because we hold politicians under a microscope and expect them to live by a different standard? If the last one, then boy, do we have a lot to learn. I’m currently taking a Media Ethics class, so our discussion of this made me want to probe the opinions and thoughts of friends, fans, and all those on the periphery.

Because, quite honestly, my response? Who cares. We spend so much time speculating about Brangelina’s kids, Britney’s body, and Amy Winehouse’s rehab details that we seem to have misplaced our mirrors. Could you stand up to the scrutiny of mega stardom? Probably not…and if you could, then you should run for something, anything, so there would be a spotlight with nothing to expose. It’s time we spent our time and energy on what matters, not ogling others. The phrase Look in your mirrors before you get out the magnifying glass is so apropos. Sam Adams hasn’t tried to be someone he’s not, but with the American fascination of exposing people’s flaws, he screwed up. Was it wrong to lie? Absolutely. But we might consider that we drive people, all people, to that. If our media handled the famous like other countries, then an openly gay man wouldn’t have to worry about covering up a gay fling with teenager (of legal age). Iceland just elected a lesbian as a Prime Minister.

We’re so far removed from that possibility that it makes me wonder how it is we’re so judgmental. Aside from social and political stance (liberal, conservative, gay, straight), we should truly adhere to the adage Judge not lest ye be judged. Maybe then we could see past the labels and accept each other for who we truly are. But until then, we’ll see black, white, rich, poor, gay, straight, fat, skinny, and all things that make a good story when exposed. No wonder so many people commit the crimes they do for their fifteen minutes…because we give it to them.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Slumdog Inspiration

I went to perhaps one of the best movies I’ve ever seen this weekend at Ragtag: Slumdog Millionaire. If you haven’t seen it…run, don’t walk. In the realm of great flicks, it ranks with my elite: Stranger Than Fiction, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and Atonement. These are just a few of the newer movies on my list, and Slumdog sits at the top. I’m on my way in a few minutes to see Benjamin Button, so perhaps this week will be a two-fer.

But the key to Slumdog’s inspiration lay at the foot of the children the movie featured: slaves, soldiers, survivors from an impoverished third world country. Africa, India, Haiti…these are places that force children to roam the street begging, stealing, surviving. But many don’t. Many are kidnapped, forced into servitude for drug dealers, gun runners, or worse. It puts life in perspective. These children don’t own a textbook, or a book of any kind for that matter. They don’t have Dolce & Gabana jeans, don’t want them, and they don’t worry about being like Britney or Ashton. They worry about being. One need only watch the new season of “24” to see the truth of this all-too-real dilemma.

What would American kids do if they weren’t allowed to go to school? A glib answer would be, “They wouldn’t care.” But that’s not true. Visit children in many of these third world regions, and it’s proof what they’d do without the burden—or privilege—of school. They’d be ecstatic at the possibility of homework, of owning a book, of learning. It isn’t that American kids don’t appreciate what they have. The truth is, they don’t understand it.

If they had to fight and beg for every meal, it would open their eyes. If they lost a mother…a father…or both, they’d develop an appreciation for all things easy. If they had to spend every waking moment surviving instead of assuming and taking for granted, it would alter more than their perspective—it would alter them.

Parents today could take one vacation – just one – that would forever change every teenager and the American mindset of immediacy, greed, and self-centered self-gratification. A mission trip to Jamaica, Haiti, or Jamal’s Mumbai neighborhood would open their minds, reveal the harsh realities of a wider world around them.

Learning isn’t confined to a building… and too many kids learn that the hard way.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009


The new year has started, and everyone is clutching at their fragile resolutions. I wonder how many people make the same one, year after year, only to watch it wither away on a chilly January breeze. I made a new one this year: not to make any more resolutions I couldn't keep. Now THAT'S a resolution worth making. I intend to work out three times a week, I plan to get all my teacher planning finished before the weekend so it doesn't consume my Sundays, I pledge to get my homework done well before class, and I am making a solemn oath to write every single day…even if it's just one sentence. These are all intentions, plans, goals I have and probably have had for some years now. But resolutions? No, because the word means unyielding, unbendable and definite. How do I know what each day will bring me? Danna may have killers to catch, Timmy might finally have his breakthrough, Benson could resolve his issues with Colin's death, and god only knows what Jaxson Ritchie IV has planned (Danna sure doesn't). They may be characters to readers (or future readers since some haven't been finished yet), but to me, these people greet me early in the morning and have plans all their own. I'm just along for the ride. So anything other than my newest resolution makes me nervous.

I'll challenge anyone that my resolution will be easier to keep. Unless, of course, your resolution was to make no more resolutions, or maybe to be resolute in your resolution about not keeping them. Okay, it's starting to make my head hurt now…